In Brief

Nasa’s Kepler space telescope nearing end as fuel runs low

Engineers say ‘warning signs’ indicate craft has only a few months left

Nasa has announced that its Kepler space telescope only has a few months left until it “dies”, after nine years in space during which it has identified 2,245 exoplanets. 

The telescope’s chief engineer, Charlie Sobeck, said in a blog post that the probe is running out of fuel, prompting the US space agency to “collect as much science data as possible” before the craft’s expected shutdown “within several months”.

The spacecraft isn’t equipped with a fuel gauge but has exhibited a number of “warning signs”, such as a drop in thruster performance and fuel pressure, that suggest it’s nearing the end of its power supply, Sobeck explained. 

Since launching in 2009, the Kepler mission has been a resounding success for Nasa, says Alphr

As well as thousands of confirmed exoplanets, the spacecraft has discovered a further 2,345 unconfirmed worlds. At least 30 of the exoplanets are “less than twice the size of Earth”, adds Alphr, and are found in “habitable zones of their stars” - meaning they could be home to extraterrestrial life.  

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however. 

In 2013, the telescope suffered a mechanical failure that prevented it from focusing on star systems, Gizmodo reports. 

Nasa was able to recommission the Kepler probe by using pressure from the Sun’s rays to “maintain its gaze”, the website says. 

Unlike standard satellites, the dying telescope will not fall back into the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, as it is currently 94 million miles away from our planet, says The Register. Instead, it is expected to pass above and past Earth in around 40 years’ time.

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